A council house for life?

How long should you be entitled to live in your council house? It's an emotive question but one that is currently on the political agenda.

The government is planning to end lifetime tenancies for new tenants, giving councils and housing association the freedom to grant fixed terms.

Under their plans, which the government claims could create up to 1.35m extra lettings over the next 30 years, tenancies will be reviewed after two years and tenants can be evicted if councils find their financial circumstances have improved. If it is decided they no longer qualify for the home, they will be given six months' notice to leave.

Currently people who are given council houses are awarded an indefinite 'secure tenancy' after a 12-month trial tenancy. They can be evicted only if they fail to pay rent, cause serious problems for neighbours or in other exceptional circumstances.

If they die, the tenancy can be passed to partner or a child.

Dawn Hazell firmly believes she should be able to remain in the council house in Cunningham Road, Norwich, formerly occupied by her parents Brian and Daphne Barrett, who both died last year.

Mrs Hazell, 50, is currently living in the three-bedroom house with her husband Michael, 37, her daughter Samantha Bacon, 32, and grandson Lynden Spall, 10.

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She and her husband, an unemployed chef, moved into the house in September 2009, having previously been living in private rented accommodation in Carrow Road. They moved in to nurse her sick father, who died last March.

'My mum was suffering from dementia. We couldn't leave her on her own. After my dad's death she deteriorated and died in November,' said Mrs Hazell.

'Then, at the beginning of December, we had a council official round telling us we had to get out.'

Mrs Hazell said the family was this week given four week's notice to leave the property. They received a letter telling them their housing need was classed as low, but that they would be eligible to bid for a three-bedroom property.

Mrs Hazell, who is currently on sick leave from her job at a supermarket, said: 'I can't see why we have got to move out. It's been a family home for over 30 years. I grew up there. I've lost my mum and dad and now we're going to lose our home. I haven't even grieved yet.

'Why have we got to go in four weeks' time? They have got to put us somewhere. After four weeks the house will come up on the council bidding site. We are entitled to bid for it, but if someone is a higher band than us where do we go?'

However, rights of succession to council properties are only granted once. A partner or a child can take over the tenancy, but in Mrs Hazell's case her mother took it over after her father's death, meaning she is not eligible.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said she could not comment on individual cases, but said: 'We take our duty to house people incredibly seriously and would consider somebody's case. They need to provide documentation and, of course, we do what we can to put them in the most appropriate accommodation for their needs.'

While most people living in the UK permanently are eligible to apply for council housing, it is allocated to those who need it most. In Norwich, need is assessed according to five bands, ranging from emergency - including those with urgent medical needs or threatened with serious and immediate violence - through gold, silver and bronze, down to low need.

There are currently 6,692 applicants on the housing waiting list, although this includes those waiting for a transfer between properties and people who may not have a right to be in the UK.

The council operates, in conjunction with Broadland and South Norfolk councils, the Home Options choice-based lettings system in which eligible people are able to bid for the properties they want.

Brenda Arthur, cabinet member for housing at Norwich, said: 'The government proposal of having much shorter tenancies and assessments after various periods is not one we actually support. We've said we're going to oppose it.

'We don't believe it encourages good stable communities and people remaining there and being able to give back to those communities. We believe if one person is investing in one of our properties, bringing up their families, enriching communities and paying their rent on time they should be able to stay.

'You don't get those stable communities without when people are always looking over their shoulders and are thinking 'If I get a better job, will I have to move out?' We want to enable and develop strong communities and give people security of tenancy.'

Geoff Lowe, chairman of Norwich Tenants' Citywide Board, said he understood the need to make sure housing was allocated to those who needed it most in the future, but that every two years was too frequent for assessments.

'If it's every two years, people will always be looking over their shoulders. We want to grow communities in Norwich. If people are going to go after two years we're not going to achieve that. Five years would seem more reasonable.

'The review couldn't be applied retrospectively. We don't want to put people in fear that they will lose their tenancies.'

Should council tenants be allowed to stay in their homes for life? What should be done to alleviate the housing shortage? Write to Letters, Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk